San Francisco Revisited

Having not been to San Francisco for some 12 years, it was a delight to rediscover a city that I first visited in the seventies. I thought a stroll down memory lane would be a fun way to spend an afternoon but what I found was so much more.

Gentrifying Character
There`s an air of gentrification happening around many of the once-seedy backstreets near Union Square. Many neighbourhoods have also spruced up their picturesque homes and BART feels cleaner, too. Incidentally, BART makes for a very easy (and the cheapest) trip between the airport and downtown is less than $10 and takes about 30 minutes.

In Chinatown, laundry still hangs from fire-escapes Hong Kong style to dry in breezeS that can tunnel UP quite a force from the water; my favourite restaurant (the Far East Café) is still there but has cleaned up so well that I barely recognized it; and the jazz clubs seem to have shape-shifted appearances, the music is as great as ever. However, too many non jazz locales simply pound with incessant techno-beat music. I call it lazy-DJing – give the crowd an ecstasy pill and just keep blasting sameness.

The best re-discoveries were along the waterfront where former grunge is a distant memory. People and activity is everywhere – including an outdoor Sunday ministry for the homeless that really had unexpected `good vibrations` of friendship and decency. Pier 39 has settled into a pleasant stroll-shop-experiential destination. My biggest giggle came from experiencing Vitality, a Coney-island style spa. Pretty wild with everything from a flavourful oxygen-bar to electronic massagers.

Newest Top Draws
Away from the water, I really loved the attractions such as the amazing California Academy of Sciences and Walt Disney Family Museum.

The California Academy of Sciences is a showcase of our world’s three dimensions: sea, earth and sky. In the basement (as in ‘sea level’) lies an amazing aquarium plus a swamp where Claude, one of only 45 albino alligator lives. Fabulous natural wildlife displays are on the main floor (as in earth), and a steamy, light filled dome contains a rainforest reaching for the sky. Everything`s geared to interaction. I loved the Science Tarot Cards – yes, you read this right. They were designed by intuitive artists especially for the Museum – I picked an image depicting a telescopic view of two stars, one slightly smaller than the other. They looked very real and while the scientific explanation was something about how stars can converge to create a new stars, the parallel tarot reading had something to do with choices.

Disney Family Museum is a wonderful revelation about Walt Disney himself. His family. Background. Early efforts. Failures. The creation of Steamboat Willie – one wall is covered with hundreds of images making up only seconds of film. Snow White. Fantasia. The working model of Disneyland … and so on. His daughter was the driving force behind telling the `real` story about her father, and it really is a delight to discover.

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About Chris McBeath

Travel writer Chris McBeath has worked aboard cruise ships, opened hotels, managed convention centers, marketed spas and spa resorts, and written guide books and travel articles on nearly every aspect of travel.
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